Tip o’ the Day: One space will do

Calvin CoolidgeYou do a lot of writing as an academic, and even more editing. That is a large part of your job: cranking out elegant sentences, combining them into tight paragraphs that tell a story, linking together these paragraphs into a longer essay form.

OK, so you’ve reached the end of a brilliant sentence, and you are about to begin the next one. How many of you type two spaces between sentences, and how many of you type just one space? Two-spacers, you go to the left of the screen, one-spacers, you go to the right. Yes, my right.

(Turning to the right): OK, you folks can go. There’s a great Joe Mathlete Explain’s Today’s Marmaduke you’ll want to see.

(Turning to the left): Two-spacers, follow me.

You don’t have to use two spaces to separate your sentences. You are forevermore free of this pernicious burden. One space will do. Why?

Years ago in the era of monospaced (e.g., Courier) type two spaces were typically used to separate sentences. It was particularly useful for full justification, when typesetters could create uniform columns by padding the already ample space between sentences. Someone even came up with the (albeit clever) rationalization that two-spaces between sentences allowed you to more easily tell where one sentence ended and the next one began.

As if periods didn’t already exist.

Nowadays, through modern technology, we have proportionally spaced fonts. Not only do they look much better, they save space, as I will demonstrate by typing 10 capital M’s and 10 lower-cased i’s



Nifty, huh? This allows words to take up only the space they deserve. On top of that, electronic typesetting with proportional fonts can be much cleverer about spacing in fully justified formats, by adding a skooch more space between words, not just at the end of sentences. So with proportional fonts there is even less need to add extra spaces between sentences as it now really breaks up the visual continuity of the paragraph. Don’t take my word for it. This text is written with one space between sentences:


and this text is written with two:


Kinda like the difference between looking at David Letterman

A wonderful human being with a gap between his front teeth

and Russel Crowe:

A wonderful human being without a gap between his teeth

Furthermore, its not just about design. By applying the one-space method in your writing, spread over a lifetime’s typing, imagine how much time you’ll save thumbing the space bar.

h/t to Jacci at About: Desktop Publishing

Update 9:23CST 13Feb07: I was shocked to hear from Debby, of Drawing the Motmot, wondering why anybody would even think of typing two spaces between sentences. It is such communications that make me, frankly, despair of the rarefied world this academic must occupy. Coming soon…my rant about the world utilize. 😉 Stay tuned.

Update 8:27AM 16Feb07: Jerry in comments has detected the previous version of this post was rife with, wait for it, two spaces between sentences! Guilty, and corrected–it’s hard to break my thumbs of the double-twitch habit. Perhaps a support group…..


16 Responses to Tip o’ the Day: One space will do

  1. Abie says:

    I’m 25 and I never heard about double spacing before, either…

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    I don’t get it. The two-spaces version looks much nicer.

    Did you mix up the the photos or something?

  3. […] wish someone would have told me this before, over the course of my lifetime the fractions of a second this will save could add up to […]

  4. Kate says:

    At last some light on the mystery that has been bothering me – I know the origin of the double space! Thankfully I reckon that one space is used more freqently than two.

  5. If only you would have written this last week before I started writing my seminar paper! I am 30 pages in now…I guess it will have to be next time.

  6. Thomas says:

    On the web, using double spaces is 100% useless, in word processors, it’s a matter of taste. However, if you do serious writing, you don’t use word processors and waste time on fixing designs: you use LaTeX, which is smart enough to do the double spaces for you if you want. Or not, if you use \frenchspacing.

    And, Marmaduke is an asshole 😉

  7. Jerry says:

    I’m intrigued that the an article exhorting us to use onespace between sentences still use two. Or am I incorrect about that notion and it’s just my browser?

  8. Mike says:

    Yikes! Double yikes!

  9. Teekay says:

    Thanks, Doc, for the write-up — I will send over lots of people in the coming days and week, basically everyone whose copy I edit. Two spaces after a period are among my top three pet peeves, together with using “impact” as a verb and hyphenating compound verbs (“he smashed-up the furniture and backed-off”).

  10. Abie says:

    “If only you would have written this last week before I started writing my seminar paper! I am 30 pages in now…I guess it will have to be next time.”

    Searching and replacing is easy, especially for something as precise as adouble space…

    “you use LaTeX, which is smart enough to do the double spaces for you if you want. Or not, if you use \frenchspacing.”
    1/ LaTeX rocks
    2/ Aaaah… so my being French might explain my total ignorance of doublespacing. Is it something specifically English-related?

  11. pete says:

    I suspected that something like this was true for a long time… now, all I have to do is beat the muscle memory ingrained in my hands.

  12. Timm says:

    Two spaces for me. Always. No matter its origins in monospace fonts or not, it’s still proper style. I wouldn’t go so far as saying that you one-spacers are doing things frankly wrong, but it is worth preserving the fact that two spaces is still the formally correct way to do it. And, I personally think it’s even more useful on the web where the fuzzy on-screen font makes text even harder to decipher.

  13. Timm says:

    Teekay. Fine that those are your pet peeves, but they are personal ones, and not grounded in grammatical law (as if there is such a thing). Hyphenating compound verbs is proper and acceptable. You are free to not verb-hyphenate if you don’t want to.

  14. Take a look at most books published before the 1950s. They use proportional type, and two spaces are set after a period.

  15. Eric says:

    Or, better yet talk to a true designer, or typographer. Most universities have a few professors in these fields. I’m confident that the answer you get will be one space with proportional fonts. Why? That is what I was taught in typography and design courses.

  16. Mary says:

    APA 6th ed. now says to put two spaces after a paragraph which I have always done anyway. It is a matter of aesthetics, it just looks better.

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